The Priority of the Objectively Important
Over the Subjectively Satisfying
By Jim J. McCrea
Often an argument is put forth that if God were all good He would want His creatures to be perfectly happy, and if He were all powerful He would be able to do what He wanted; because there is suffering in the world and a lack of perfect happiness, God is either not all powerful, not all good, or both.
That reasoning seems logical; however, it is predicated upon an idea of God that is radically impoverished.
The assumption is, that an all loving and all good God would desire to give us *subjective* goods - such as pleasure, happiness, joy, peace, and fulfillment, and that is it - that a good God would merely wish to facilitate the *subjectively satisfying* for us.
However, God wills us to abide in *objective* goodness - that is, to adhere to the *objectively important* (what is important in itself). The objectively important in its fullness and perfection is true love. The true definition of love is willing the good of the other for the sake of the other and not for what one can get out of it - that is, to will things such as reverence, truth, justice, faithfulness, charity, kindness, and mercy towards other persons; and to give honor, glory, and satisfaction for sins to God. The first and second commandments are to love God and to love neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:34-40).
That is the problem. Since we do not properly will the objective good, or what is good in itself before any personal advantage can be gained - because there is selfishness in all of us to varying degrees - suffering exists in the world.
Even suffering due to things beyond our control and due to factors that may appear to be nobody's fault, such as disease, natural disaster, and accident are due to disharmonies within ourselves, with each other, with the physical world, and with God. Those disharmonies are due to Original Sin (both the original sin of Lucifer and the original sin of Adam).
All humans have what is known as "concupiscence," which is a tendency to sin within us which was inherited from our First Parents, because of their Fall in the Garden, and which is exacerbated by our personal sins.
Many of the problems that we have today in society, stem from the fact that with many people the subjectively satisfying is sought while the objectively important is ignored. For example, many marriages break down because one of the spouses is not "happy" or is "no longer in love." He or she forgets that love is primarily a decision to will the good of the other and is not primarily a feeling (that is not to say that there are not legitimate reasons to separate from a spouse, such as a situation of abuse. This refers to those who selfishly base their decision on a calculus of "happiness," thus trampling underfoot their sacred obligations).
Today we live in a culture of death because much law, court decision, public policy, and popular culture facilitate the subjectively satisfying while ignoring the objectively important. In Western society, many "rights" are based on that. In the sexual sphere this is done by the social acceptance of pre-marital sex, the legal sale of contraceptives, legal abortion, homosexual "marriage," legal pornography, and no-fault divorce (in the past Western society shunned or outlawed those things for the greater good). In the economic sphere this is done by employers extracting the benefit of work from employees but not giving them a just wage in return, workers taking a salary and not putting in an honest day's work, and in dealers who work the financial or stock markets so that they reap a profit but do not produce any real value in return.
A Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love would be a true Christian society. It would disallow the above evils and promote the true good of the human person, and put in place legal and societal structures based upon true justice. That would bring true peace, tranquility, happiness, and prosperity to society. Such a civilization would facilitate the objectively important through law and social custom.
With the individual life, it is a principle that the subjectively satisfying must never be sought for its own sake, but that it must only be the consequent of the objectively important.
For example, sexual pleasure is the proper consequent of the objective goods of the union of spouses in one flesh and the begetting of children. The pleasure of eating is the proper consequent of the objective good of nutrition. That is why things such as artificial contraception and fornication are wrong, and why vomiting just for the pleasure of eating more food is wrong. For then, subjective pleasure is being extracted while discarding the objective good it should be based upon.
Even recreation and entertainment are not to be sought as a mere means to pleasure, but should be engaged in so that one can be refreshed and better do one's duty in life. For the perfect man or woman, that is the strict rule by which recreation and entertainment are governed. For him or her, the objectively important is the sole rule of action and the subjectively satisfying takes care of itself.
Sometimes it is asked that if heaven is perfect happiness, then why do we not wish to die now so as to enjoy that happiness now; or if heaven's happiness is the point of existing, why are we not allowed to kill ourselves so that we can get there immediately.
The answer to that is that the purpose of this life is to build within us and perfect within us an orientation towards the objectively important . Only when that process is completed, which is done in the time that God allots us on earth, can we enjoy perfect and eternally stable happiness in heaven (reward is to be the expectation and not the motive for our actions).
Heaven is not God spoon feeding us happiness, but the happiness of heaven flows from the objectively important which is first. This orientation to the objectively important is to be constructed in our time on earth. The objectively important in its perfection, in heaven, is the perfect love of God, the angels, and the blessed, without a shadow of self-interest. Only with this perfectly pure disinterested love in heaven can we enjoy a happiness which is perfectly pure and eternal.
The paradox is, when there is still self interest in our motivations, happiness for us cannot be perfectly pure and eternally stable, but contains within it some dissatisfaction and the seeds of its dissolution. That is why in this life, where we are imperfect, the dark night of the soul usually follows a period of emotional prosperity. God uses the suffering that comes out of that imperfection to further purify us. Enjoying perfect and eternally stable happiness in heaven is the reason why Jesus said that we must be made perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
Jesus said that, not to burden us with an impossible ideal, but because of His perfect love for us. We must trust that He can provide what is beyond our own power to give ourselves. That is embodied in the theological virtue of hope.